Halifax Water says it’s received approval from Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board to defer the collection of an expensive fee for developers of nonprofit housing.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, the water utility received UARB approval to increase its regional development charge — meant to pay for direct sewer and water connections to the buildings and the increased load on the surrounding system from new development — in an Oct. 29 decision.
The regional development charge has been repeatedly cited as an impediment to the development of non-profit housing in Halifax, and the municipality has been told it can’t be waived. Councillors approved fee waivers for non-profit housing development this week, but again, the Halifax Water fee remained untouched.
As part of its application to the UARB, Halifax Water asked the board to create a payment deferral system for nonprofit housing. It wrote in the application:
The Regional Development Charge may be deferred for units considered within the Housing Affordability initiatives as defined by Halifax Regional Municipality. Deferrals may be considered for these units up to ten years. Interest will be charged after year two. Halifax Regional Municipality will place a lien on the Property to ensure payment of the RDC.
The UARB decision appeared to oppose any waiver or deferral of the fee. It read in part:
Accordingly, while the Board is mindful of the impact of RDC rates on the development of affordable housing, the Board does not have the jurisdiction under the Public Utilities Act to waive or reduce the RDCs by reason of the affordability of those rates or charges for a segment of the public.
The Examiner reported that the board had not approved the request, and in comments that day, Halifax Water spokesperson James Campbell never indicated otherwise, but the utility now says the UARB approved that plan.
In a letter to councillors this week, Halifax Water general manager Cathie O’Toole wrote that, “the initial interpretation by the media (and by Halifax Water) was that it did not approve Halifax Water’s proposal to defer RDCs for affordable housing units.”
“Last week, I wrote to the NSUARB to get clarification on this, and they’ve indicated that they approved our request to be able to defer payments for up to 10 years respecting RDCs for affordable housing developments,” O’Toole wrote.
In a news release Friday, Campbell confirmed what O’Toole told councillors, that the board had actually approved the request.
“Halifax Water will be submitting a compliance filing on December 7th, and expects an NSUARB Order will be received approving the changes to the Regulations in early in January 2021,” Campbell wrote.
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This is a debate not worth having. A deferred $225K Halifax Water fee for the Affirmative Ventures’s project still needs to be paid. Therefore it still needs to be financed. Therefore the tenants will still pay for it some day in their rents.